Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From the living room window I can see some small gourds across the street at the flower shop. That's as close as I'm getting to a pumpkin. It's the most beautiful fall crisp and sunny day.

Glad to be back in holland...
Happy Halloween back home!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Leaving Berlin

So I'm packed and cleaned up and heading out to get a coffee and snack before making my way to the train.

Some thoughts on Berlin: I am very glad I came. It was beautiful and crisp and big blue skies that felt like home when it's not raining in the winter. I think a huge factor was the generosity of C&T as with out them I would have barely scratched the surface. I feel like I know a bit about Berlin and it leaves me wanting more on another trip.

This week I've been following everyone at home getting ready for Halloween and it's strange because Germany has such a loaded past, Berlin has such a loaded past that you can't help looking around and thinking what a scary, creepy place this had been for so many years. I have felt it. It's real.

Overall such an interesting place. It was a great introduction!

Monday, October 29, 2012

I really should have taken the advice of a certain German friend and had this on day one: Berliner Weisse

Beer with raspberry syrup. Yum!

Stasi Museum

I was told the secret service museum was hard to find- I suppose that was how it was meant to be, but really it's just a nondescript boring office building amongst other nondescript boring office buildings. I don't know if the other buildings in this block are still used for anything or not, but it was kind of deserted and creepy walking through there.

The Headquarters of the State Security housed the Stasi organization from 1957 to 1989. In 1990 it was taken over by protesters and pretty much ransacked.

Erich Mielke was the man in power during these years and they have left his offices just so. There are a lot of rooms leading to other rooms and somewhere in there was sort of a private suite, you know, when you just want to get away from it all.

And there were a lot of phones. A lot.


The other half of the Stasi Museum was almost all forms of surveillance. I loved James Bond and Q, Maxwell Smart and Agent 99. This is the stuff my childhood adventure fantasies were made of!

The amount of surveillance is astounding. A video I watched said according to Stasi there were only about 2000 people under surveillance in Germany but I don't believe it for a second. Some people were sure they had been watched for years but later, there was no evidence they ever had a file.

In the end, the Stasi were not so secretive as they came to the publics attention attempting to burn files. The fires were too big in their secret locations! Then things really worked against them when they simply did not own enough shredders to do it all, so they hand ripped documents: currently there is an organization dedicated to reassembling torn documents. They are still working on it. A mail bag has approximately 10,000 scraps.

Photo 1: log camera, 2: birdhouse camera 3: button hole camera 4: men's tie camera, 5: fabric smell samples (so Stasi dogs could chase them down) 6: woman's purse camera 7: stump camera 8: watering can camera

Sunday, October 28, 2012


When I heard about this 'abandoned' airport in the middle of Berlin I knew I had to go.

Originally built in 1927 and then reconstructed for the nazis in the 1930's. It's massive, at one time was in the top 20 biggest buildings in the world (but boasted the smallest duty free shop?!)

It seems it was still operating as an airport until as late as 2007 or 2008- and then it opened as a city park in May 2010.

Today: cyclists, runners, kite fliers, kids, dogs, frisbee players, bbq's, mini golf, community garden, art installations, soccer players,

and me.

Considering how much time I have spent at airports I have NEVER seen it like this- to walk out on a runway... the length of it. To see the airport from the other side. As a tiny speck of a human in such an expanse that I could not really see the perimeter except that at some point you see trees and apartments. Just awesome.

Checkpoint Charlie

I had a few childhood visions of Checkpoint Charlie: my mom had gone through this stop in the late sixties when driving around Europe- they used mirrors to make sure no one was hanging on to their axel. I think it must have featured in many an escape story about East Berlin- even if it was the CBC Disney Sunday night special.

It really had not occurred to me that it might still exist in some form all these years later, but today there I was. Straddling the east and the west. I could have gotten a 'visa' stamped, but I wanted it in my real passport and then thought that might get me in trouble!

Brandenburg Tor/Gate

Between the Reichstag Building and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe stands the Brandenburg Tor. It's is the only remaining gate through which Berlin was once entered. It was also located next to the Berlin wall and was featured prominently during the start of the fall of the wall in 1989.

Wide view, West side, East side.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

I had not looked at photos or anything prior to seeing this monument- and that first moment today really took my breath away. And stopped me in my tracks.

Before you is a field of 2711 solid concrete slabs, of varied heights, on a rolling hill, spaced equally apart and in exact order.

To me, like rows and rows of coffins.

Walking through them was disorienting and sounds are muffled. (I had a couple near misses with other people as you literally can't see or really hear them coming). At some moments the slabs are nearly twice my height. The goal to make the observer uneasy and confused, is successful.

Stunning. Sad. Impactful.

Parliament Building, Reichstag

This morning I made my way to the Reichstag building for a tour. I had been pre registered so I did not have to wait in line- but there is elaborate security.

This is the house of parliament, but there is a unique glass dome on the roof that you can do a visual 360 degree Birdseye tour of the city. There is also an audio tour that's triggered at different points as you walk up, and again on the way down.

Even from the street you can see people walking up the spiral staircases. Today was hovering around 0oC so it was certainly chilly up there as although you are enclosed in glass, parts like the base and the top are open to the elements. There was also a lot of frost on the shady side making it a bit hard to see the Tiergarten (city park across the street that was once a hunting ground for royalty/leaders).

After our huge walk yesterday there were many points and places I recognized. It really does give you a great idea of the city.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

German style eats

There you go. German eats covered: schnitzel (that's a half order thank goodness, still didn't finish) and currywurst at lunch.


I felt pretty overwhelmed last night when I arrived... This morning I woke up and had a plan only to find a particular clothing store and meet my one connection for lunch- as it turns out, miss N's connection here made my day! C&T have been living here for just over a year and are also outsiders in Germany. We wandered together and ate a traditional German lunch and then spent the rest of the day guiding me around- unexpected, but really I will forever be grateful as I feel far more comfortable here and feel I have a better grasp on Mitte.

C took me for a walk through some 'hofs' and to museum island. It was really cold out there! We also got caught in a rain storm, but warmed up over coffees and cake.

Some photos from this cloudy day... But most importantly:

Photo 2: the Neue Wache was the most beautiful thing I've seen so far- a memorial to victims of war and tyranny. The large room has only a single sculpture called 'Mother with her dead son' and a circular window above it- when it rains, she is rained on. When it snows, she is covered by snow. Exposed. Vulnerable. Emotional.

Photo 6: at Bebelplatz, Humboldt University. I would have never noticed it myself. There is a window in the ground and you look below to a room lined with white bookshelves, but empty. Not a single book. It is the site of nazi book burnings in 1933. The quote on the site is profound: "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people" ~ Heinrich Heine

Berlin apartment

Views from around my apartment and beyond.